Universal healthcare in Bangladesh could be a reality

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Recognizing the essential role of health, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in 2012, urging countries to accelerate progress towards universal health coverage (UHC) – the idea that everyone, everywhere, should have access to quality and affordable health care. This year’s UHC Day theme focuses on investing in health systems for all. Strengthening health systems for universal health coverage and global health security are key high-level global public health goals for healthier and safer societies.

The key to success is the right leadership and governance structure, supported by a good health financing system. With the 2012-2032 health financing strategy in place, the country has the political goodwill to build its health sector. However, the allocation to the health sector to date represents less than 10 percent of the total budget for the fiscal year and less than 1 percent of GDP. To achieve the vision of UHC, the government should refocus its attention on the health sector and increase the budget allocation to meet the demands placed on the delivery of the public health system.

Closely linked to funding is the ability to deliver good health services coupled with a performing health workforce. The low budget allocation means that there are shortages of skilled human resources, equipment and medical supplies. This situation is not unique to Bangladesh, but is prevalent in many emerging markets. It presents an opportunity to work with the private sector, to complement and fill gaps in the health sector. The private sector can provide additional care to fill capacity and specialty gaps to create a strong and strengthened health care infrastructure that can increase access for local communities. In addition, the focus on high quality care ensures better patient outcomes.

Private equity helps bridge this gap in public funds, working with governments to provide long-term financing. In addition, private investment also creates economies of scale for healthcare in emerging markets which can reduce costs for consumers and improve quality, which in turn will have a significant positive social impact for consumers. while ultimately freeing up private capital for other much needed health investments.

Currently, individuals bear a large portion of medical costs, with up to 67 percent of expenses borne by households through out-of-pocket payments. This system creates a significant financial burden for poor families, sometimes forcing them either to forgo treatment or to go into debt. To reduce this burden, the government must increase funding for health care. To address this, strong funding structures are essential. Innovative public-private partnerships could also solve this problem.

The global COVID-19 pandemic offers the government an opportunity to re-prioritize health on the national agenda. While there is no “one size fits all”, we must build on the existing evidence and chart a deliberate path towards this vision.

The author is the CEO and Managing Director of Evercare Hospitals, Bangladesh.


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